2023 Atlanta Hawks Free Agency: Instant grades for the moves so far

We’re just a few days into the 2023 NBA free agency period, including still within the moratorium period where the majority of moves cannot yet be finalized. But with most of the action behind us — aside from a potential Damian Lillard trade — it’s time to look back at what’s happened so far.

The Atlanta Hawks haven’t actually dipped into the free agent pool, at least not yet, but they have made two reported transactions. First, news broke before last Friday that the Hawks were going to send John Collins to the Utah Jazz for Rudy Gay and a second-round pick. Then on Saturday, the Atlanta Hawks and Houston Rockets agreed to a trade to acquire Usman Garuba, TyTy Washington Jr., two second-round picks and cash for the rights to overseas player Alpha Kaba.

Since there appear to be multifaceted motivations for trading a locker room leader and six-year starter in Collins, it’s hard to boil the analysis down to a binary “good move” or “bad move” judgment. And yet, characterizing trades in a vacuum with or without proper context is still a popular way to generate immediate reactions and start a dialogue.

With that background, let’s see what sports pundits have had to say about the free agency decisions the Hawks have made to this point. First, ESPN gave Atlanta a B- with a fairly sober view of the financial motives behind the Collins agreement:

Hawks: B-

After years of rumors, the John Collins era for the Hawks is ending with a whimper. This is essentially a salary dump to take Atlanta off the luxury tax.

The Hawks were $9.6 million over the tax line with Collins and their four players with non-guaranteed salaries for 2023-24 (Bruno Fernando, Vit Krejci, Tyrese Martin and Garrison Mathews), who were the product of Atlanta’s unlikely (but ultimately damaging) race. to the conference finals in 2021.

In the wake of Collins being able to fill a role as a floor-spacing power forward during the playoffs, making 36% of his 3s and 63.5% of his 2s while defending at the rim, he re-signed a five-year deal worth $125 million that the Hawks have been trying to move almost from the second the ink dried.

Part of the problem was Collins’ rapid regression from 3-point range. He hit 40% in both the 2019-20 and 2020-21 regular seasons, which was necessary when Atlanta moved him to more of a stretch 4 with the arrival of Clint Capela as the primary partner for Trae Young in the pick-and- role.

In 2019-20, Collins set 54 on-ball screens per 100 possessions, according to Second Spectrum tracking. The Hawks added Capela at that season’s trade deadline, although he did not play for the team due to injury before play was stopped due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It fell to 39.0 in 2020-21 and 34.4 in 2021-22 before going off a cliff last season. Collins averaged just 19.4 ball screens per game. 100 possessions, a drop of nearly two-thirds from his 2019-20 rate.

At the same time, Collins shot a career-low 29% from beyond the arc, reflecting his efficiency and his trade value. He had both the lowest usage rate (17%) and true shooting percentage (.593) of his NBA career. No wonder Atlanta found few people.

Still, Collins started every game he played and averaged 30 minutes per game in the regular season and 27.3 in the playoffs, so the Hawks take a hit on the court. Coach Quin Snyder has a few options to replace Collins. Jalen Johnson, who saw increased playing time after Snyder took over, would be the same pick: an athletic 6-foot-9 forward with questionable shooting (28% from 3 in two NBA seasons).

Alternatively, the Hawks could go smaller and push 6-8 De’Andre Hunter to the 4, opening a spot in the lineup for sixth man Bogdan Bogdanovic, Saddiq Bey or 2022 first-round pick AJ Griffin. Although he is the most proven player in the group, keeping Bogdanovic in a reserve role is probably ideal. That could set up a training camp rivalry between Bey, Griffin and Johnson.

Homosexuals are unlikely to enter the competition. He shot just 38% from the field and 25% from 3-point range last season. He turns 37 in August and no longer deserves a rotation role. Gay, who will exercise his $6.5 million player option as part of this trade, will provide experience in Snyder’s system.

Trading Collins would allow Atlanta to add to the roster using the non-taxpayer mid-level exception. Depending on what non-guaranteed salaries they retain, the Hawks will have $10 million to $18 million available to fill out their roster and stay under the tax line. Atlanta will want to keep an eye out for unlikely incentives in the contracts of Capela, Hunter and Dejounte Murray that could bring the team into the fold.

Whoever the Hawks add, it’s unlikely that player will be as productive on the court as Collins. That’s the reality of building a team with a payroll in the luxury tax, but not the results on the field to justify it. One of the constant themes of my trade analysis is that moves that look useful when viewed strictly in terms of talent can be harmful financially because of the tough choices they force down the line. The Murray deal in particular had that effect here.

Judging this trade is largely a matter of perspective. Given the urgency of avoiding the luxury tax in time to make moves in free agency and how Collins’ value had sunk, getting out of the remaining three years of his contract without having to add draft picks could be seen as a positive outcome for Atlanta. Still, it’s hard to feel comfortable with how the Hawks’ entire process resulted in discarding a productive player for little return on the court.

Zach Harper of The Athletic had a much more negative take on the matter, giving the Hawks an F+ for the poor process:

I will admit that I am not the biggest fan of Collins as a difference maker. He’s insanely athletic and has a solid skill set, but I’ve never felt like he’d be the starting power forward for a truly great team. And it seems the Hawks have felt the same way about Collins for years because he’s always rumored to be on the trade block. Even up until his restricted free agency in 2021, the Hawks tried to move him to something valuable and avoid signing him for big money.

The annual tradition of looking at trading him didn’t materialize, and the Hawks ended up signing him in the summer of 2021 for five years and $125 million. After two years into that contract, the best they could do for him was a 36-year-old Rudy Gay and a second-round pick? That can’t possibly be the right value, whether you believe Collins or not.

This is a terrible job of maximizing value for a player who should still be an asset. This feels like the first move of many for Atlanta because of how little return there is. The Hawks will create a trade exception with the gap in Collins’ salary ($25.3 million) and Gay’s salary number ($6.4 million). It may help them take action at some point. It also helps ease the pain of the incoming luxury tax, as the Hawks were just over $1 million under the luxury tax last season.

This still feels like even a weak salary dump. We’ll see how much of this list gets moved in the coming weeks. Clint Capela, De’Andre Hunter and many more not named Trae Young could all be moved. Even for a salary dump, the Collins deal is a complete miss on its own. We’ll have to see what happens next.

Grade: F+

Later, Harper gave a much more glowing review of the Hawks’ trade with the Rockets, handing out an A- and saying:

Atlanta Hawks acquire TyTy Washington, Usman Garubatwo second round picks

Houston Rockets acquire trade exception

At worst, the Hawks grabbed two more young guys to try to develop with Garuba looking like he could be an excellent defender. The Rockets needed to shed some guys from the roster, and [sic] give up perhaps way too early on recent first round picks.

Grade: A- for Hawks, C for Rockets

I say the Hawks did what they had to do because of their financial constraints. The returns for John Collins look much better with the hindsight of the second trade:

What say you, loyal readers of this site? What grade would you give the Hawks for the two reported trades?

Read more

Leave a Comment